PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder...otherwise known as a reaction due to the trauma from your abuse.
It was first diagnosed to returning military soldiers after battle who were traumatized and who were experiencing flashbacks from their trauma.
Since that time, it has been used to diagnose other traumatic incidences such as sexual abuse trauma.
The major symptoms include NIGHTMARES and FLASHBACKS of the abuse and DISSOCIATION (spacing out or a coping mechanism used to emotionally shut down when experiencing the abuse or when something triggers a memory of the abuse.)
HYPERVIGILANCE is also common. This is being "on guard" constantly (watching, looking around constantly, ready to jump and run.)
Flashbacks are when someone "relives" the abuse. Something might trigger a memory..like a song, a smell, could be anything, and it puts you right back to the moment of the abuse and you mentally "check out" for a moment.
This can be extremely frightening.
We all have "triggers" or things that consciously or subconsciously remind us of our abuse.
Triggers can be visual (sight), auditory (hearing) , tactile (touch) or sensory, smell (olfactory) and even taste. Basically all of your senses.
These triggers can lead us to the PTSD behaviors as mentioned above. Our responses to the triggers can be changed with therapy and or counseling; however, you can continue to have triggers for years to come. Your response will be different due to the fact that you can define your triggers and sometimes anticipate them.
I am reminded, even after more than 15 years of recovery, that I still have triggers and I am aware of them most of the time; however, now and again, I will get caught off guard.
Some of the situations that would generally be a trigger for a woman who had been sexaully abused and might cause PTSD symptoms are:
Going to the doctor-(having a physical exam) If this is something that bothers you, especially if the doctor is male, ask for a woman to be present during the exam. This is something that is ususally routine now.
Going to the Dentist- This is one that might surprise you. This is also one of my biggest triggers! Shortly after into recovery, I had my wisdom teeth removed and that required me to be in the oral surgeon's chair for quite some time. The feeling of being "trapped" in the chair and having no control was a huge isue! It also might be with you. Be aware and be prepared.
Getting a gynecological exam- obviously a trigger.
A male or female boss repremanding you- You may feel traumatized all over again or certainly your abuse feelings might come up. There is also the issue of power and control.
The climate outside- Depending upon the weather when you were abused, this might be an issue. If you were assaulted outside in the middle of August..well, you can see what I mean here.
Holidays- If you were sexually abused by a family member etc. Holidays might have significant meaning for you. This trigger might affect how you celebrate or not celebrate the holidays.
I could go on and on..but you know when, where, how you were abused. This all affects your PTSD and your triggers.
Try to write down what you think yours might be. This will be helpful in the future when you know you are going to the doctor etc. that you might start having feelings of panic, anxiety, depression etc. and be prepared how to deal with that.
As always, seek professional help if you need it. A counselor can sit down with you and discuss your own, personal triggers and help you to develop a plan for dealing with them.
Support is out there for you if you choose to use it.
For more information on symptoms and treatment for PTSD,
Here is a link to the United States Veterans Affairs Office National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder:
US Veterans National Center for PTSD.
Go from PTSD back to sexual abuse signs page.